Monday, July 30, 2007

Fire & Water & Rubber Boots: The Case For Trace Evidence

It is a commonplace by now that the investigation into Bryan Kocis’ murder did not stop on 15 May (when the affidavit of probable cause was filed.) And something else we can pretty safely count on is that the affidavit does not contain every last shred of evidence the police thought the had against Mr. Cuadra and Mr. Kerekes.

The affidavit was written to get two guys arrested, not to convict them.

It’s not an undue presumptive jump, then, to the conclusion that right now there’s more evidence kicking around than we know about. Granted, much of it is peculiar to the case at hand, and will be news to us once we hear it (if we hear it.)

But there are classes of evidence that are routine: the stuff that the police almost certainly have—or tried like hell to get. Perhaps then, we can speculate about that evidence with reasonable propriety.

The foremost class of such thingies about which we have heard nary a peep about (thus far) goes by the overall name ‘trace evidence.’

Crime writer Katherine Ramsland: “No matter how much someone tries to clean up a crime scene, something is generally left behind. It may not always be detected, but it's difficult to take any kind of violent action without shedding something.”

Trace evidence includes fibers, hairs, fluids, shoe prints, palm and/or fingerprints, natural materials like plant matter and/or rocks, tire tracks... all of it.

And not a bit of it was mentioned in that affidavit.

Of course not, I hear you saying, that’s because there isn’t any. Surely, you continue, the fire and the subsequent Stampede of the Volunteer Firemen destroyed it all.

Granted, maybe that’s true; fires and fire-hoses and firemen all play havoc with fragile evidence. But we do know that the fire was only started in one place—“the rear of a living room couch/loveseat in very close proximity to the couch on which the victim was found deceased.”

Plus, the number and variety of items missing from the house informs us that the killer(s) roamed all over that house.

The farther the bad guys strayed from what was to become the hottest part of that fire, the more likely that some manner of trace evidence was recovered.

It also seems axiomatic that the more hurried the burglary (after Mr. Kocis’ quick demise), the more likely that something was shed. And there, the tight timeline likewise points toward the prospect of a less-than-antiseptic heist.

So then, if they indeed did this thing, should Mr. Cuadra and Mr. Kerekes be certain that they left behind no sign?

You can be sure that their lawyers share no such surety. They know better.

As forensic-science pioneer Edmond Locard put it, "[t]his is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent."